New research shows link between diet high in processed foods and heart disease and stroke.
New research presented at the European Society of Cardiology (ESC) congress last month revealed that eating ultra-processed foods such as fast food every week, is linked to an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.
Ultra-processed food refers to a wide range of products such as mass-produced bread, ready meals, fast foods, sweets and desserts, salty snacks, breakfast cereals, reconstituted meat including chicken and fish nuggets, instant noodles and soups, tinned vegetables with added salt, sugar-coated dried fruit, sodas and sweetened drinks.
The study looked at the association between eating ultra-processed foods and developing, or dying from, cardiovascular disease over a 10-year period.
The analysis used data from the ATTICA prospective study, which was conducted during 2001-2012 in Greece. This study enrolled adults free of cardiovascular disease at the beginning of the study period who were asked about portion sizes and how often they ate a range of foods and drinks during the previous seven days.
The incidence of cardiovascular events was progressively higher as ultra-processed food consumption rose
The researchers also used a questionnaire to assess level of adherence to a heart healthy dietary pattern, i.e. the Mediterranean diet, which emphasises fruit, vegetables, and whole grains.
Participants were followed up for 10 years for the occurrence of fatal and non-fatal cardiovascular events including heart attack, unstable angina, stroke, heart failure and heart rhythm disorders (arrhythmias).
The study included 2,020 participants, of whom 1,014 were women and 1,006 were men. The average age was 45 years.
On average, participants consumed approximately 15 servings of ultra-processed foods per week. During the 10-year follow up there were 317 cardiovascular events. The incidence of cardiovascular events was progressively higher as ultra-processed food consumption rose. With an average weekly consumption of 7.5, 13, and 18 servings, the incidence of cardiovascular disease was 8.1%, 12.2%, and 16.6%, respectively.
Each additional weekly serving of ultra-processed food was associated with a 10% higher likelihood of cardiovascular disease within the decade .
The association was reassessed according to adherence to a Mediterranean diet. The aggravating role of ultra-processed foods became even stronger in participants with a low level of adherence to this dietary pattern.
" Our study suggests that the detrimental relationship with cardiovascular disease is even stronger in those with a generally unhealthy diet,"
In those with a moderate to high level of adherence to the Mediterranean diet (score above 27), each additional weekly serving of ultra-processed food was associated with an 8% higher likelihood of cardiovascular disease within 10 years – but the association was no longer significant.
Study author Dr Matina Kouvari of Harokopio University of Athens, Greece said: “Evidence is accumulating for an association between ultra-processed foods and increased risks of several chronic diseases. Our study suggests that the detrimental relationship with cardiovascular disease is even stronger in those with a generally unhealthy diet. Public health initiatives and nutrition policies are needed to promote nutritious food choices while for individuals, limiting ultra-processed food intake seems sensible.”
Commenting Orna O’Brien Dietitian with the Irish Heart Foundation said,
“We know that ultra-processed foods are bad for our health, but this really demonstrates just how powerful this negative impact is on heart health. It tells us that for each additional weekly serving of ultra-processed food we eat our risk of cardiovascular disease is increased.
“What is most interesting is that those with a healthy baseline diet more like a typical Mediterranean Diet were somewhat protected from the effects of ultra-processed foods than those with a less healthy baseline diet. This study highlights the importance of basing our diets around unprocessed plant-based foods like fruit, vegetables, wholegrains and pulses – Mediterranean style – and shows us that every time we choose these foods over ultra-processed foods, it has a real, measurable positive impact for our heart health,” Orna added.
" This study highlights the importance of basing our diets around unprocessed plant-based foods like fruit, vegetables, wholegrains and pulses,"
Eating a healthy diet and keeping active are a major part of keeping your heart healthy and preventing heart disease.
Throughout September the Irish Heart Foundation’s 2021 Heart Month campaign ‘Reboot Your Life’ calls on men to sign up to Reboot their life and reduce their risk of heart disease and stroke.
By signing up men can access heart health information, download a helpful booklet, assess their lifestyle through a quiz, and receive emails with tips and tricks on how to include more movement, or eat healthier throughout September.
Visit the Reboot Your Life campaign here and find out how men can make small changes for a healthier heart and future.
The Reboot Your Life campaign is supported by the HSE and Rugby Players Ireland.